Everyone looks forward to spring time and animals like horses and cows rejoice in being able to get out and eat the fresh green grass. With cows we all look forward to spending less on hay and grain but in the case of your pony, ( Donkey, Miniature Horse) danger comes with each acre of fresh grass. The problem is “Founder” and how unmanaged diet of fresh green grass can end up looking like this. As you can see in the following photo this pony is actually in the process of having the excess( Horn) hoof removed. Tom has removed the toe of the front foot and reshaped it to look normal. The hind hooves show the typical slipper and curled growth of Founder.
“Founder or Laminitis, has been a problem associated with Equine mismanagement for Centuries.” [Founder]… “is commonly caused by over feeding, feeding large amounts of rich feed to inactive horses.” Diets high in carbohydrates including spring grass and treats like marshmallows, white bread, apples, all are too rich for the equine diet. ” Many horses fed this way only need a small amount of stress to cause an attack, over working for the condition of the horse, a case of colic or a fever.” states Don Baskin author of the Western Horseman’s book “Well-Shod”.
The onset of Founder is easy to spot as the pony becomes sick and is listless and lazy not wanting to stand and seems in pain as it walks. At times the animal may appear very ill from other conditions like colic or a fever and will have heat in the hoof. Most animals will go off feed and will remain sick for several days. By the time many owners react it is too late for the ponies feet. The hoof is already damaged and bones inside the hoof begins the process of rotation. Because of the bone rotation the hoof will grow deformed and the process continues.The condition never ceases and the foot grows uncontrollably and in a matter of months looks like Midnights’ feet above. Sadly the animal that is not managed carefully can have more attacks and cause more damage to the hoof making management of the hoof impossible and may lead to having the animal put down.
This story gets even sadder as we will see in the following photos as Midnights’ barn mate and best friend is a Jenny donkey who is also foundered. At the time of our visit Jenny was experiencing Colic again from the lack of diet restriction. She was unwilling to stand and was weak in all four limbs at our arrival. Her feet were on average 3 to four inches to long and curved and twisted. While waiting for additional help to arrive Tom began to trim some of the toe off her feet without much reaction.
After The owner arrived at the barn Tom decides that Jenny’s situation is more serious than her barn mates. The plan is to cut Jenny’s feet with the help of power tools. He will use a grinder and saw to remove the 3 extra hard inches of hoof. As a team we begin to hold her legs and head as Tom begins the long process of removing the extra horn that has not worn off the hoof. The frist step is to notch the hoof with a grinder so that the saw does not bounce loose and cut either the animal, the handlers or the Farrier. At this point there are two of us holding her head and body and one holding her leg as Tom cuts. The animal fights slightly and we all try our best to keep everyone safe from the flying hooves.
Like our finger nails, horse hooves have no nerve endings in the nail portion, and like humans the flesh that attach to the nail or hoof wall is very sensitive and full of soft tissues. With a Founder issue, the soft tissues are so damaged that they die and the hoof wall grows so fast that there is nothing but dead tissue in the bottom portion of the hoof. No blood, no pain, no feeling, nothing but rotting tissue and nail. This is what Tom aims to remove without hitting anything that is alive and growing in a semi normal fashion.
In the picture above the hoof would normally trimmed to where you see the spilt start at the top of the hoof but the foot is so deformed that he must leave several inches of extra hoof on the donkey so that the bone that has rotated is still safely inside the hoof wall and has some padding to protect it from the ground. The foot is trimmed, angled, dressed to make it look as normal as possible and give good support to the Donkeys legs. This trim will last about 5 weeks and the hoof will grow at twice the rate of a normal hoof. If Jenny is left to eat as much green grass as she wants and the owner continues giving treats like marsh mellows, white bread, doughnuts, apples, she may actually Colic or Founder to the point of losing her life.
It is wise for the pony owner to mow down spring hay,dry lot or stall keep their animals for the first few months of spring to prevent these painful situations. Tom also advises NO TREATS… just like you and I, Ponies do not need marshmallows, sugar cubes, or anything full of sugar. If you want to “treat” your donkey or pony spend time with a brush and groom them. They want the attention and love the feeling of being clean and you will save them from years of pain. Also watch your small equine for signs that green grass is a problem and remove them from the source if possible. A day in a stall with limited turn out is cheaper than the cost of a Farrier visit to care for your Pony.